It was also kind of a payback treat for KKD (mgeek, if you will) who invited me to watch a fabulous collection of short plays with him at the NCPA some months ago. I asked him if he was alright with chamber music and he said he actually preferred it over symphonies because it was more concentrated and more vivid.
That settles it, I thought. I wondered if I should look this stuff up on youtube to put in, you know, a sort of preparation. A practiced ear is better for appreciating classical music, so my music teacher told me way back in school. But then, I thought, what the hell? There's something to be said for spontaneity. Besides, nobody ever acquired a practiced ear over a fortnight, anyway.
Now, I'm not really trained in music unless one counts eight months of harmonium and three years of tabla lessons in my early teens. Much to the dismay of my music-loving parents, I am nowhere near disciplined enough and I think I tend to get easily distracted from the task at hand. So that was the end of that.
My brother is really the musical one. He plays the tabla and the guitar and aajoba's old harmonica with equal felicity. He is comfortable with classical and popular music and not stuck up about either.
I am mostly a sort of occasional listener. I like listening to music and it doesn't matter if it's a smattering of jazz, or the sharp, exotic wailing of the zither or even, the foot-tapping, hand-clapping of East-European gypsy songs.
I actually prefer it eclectic, which is further testimony to my easily-distracted mind and short attention-span. I cant listen to one thing for too long. And then, certain songs go with certain moods. It's Schumann's piano concertos on sleepless nights alternated with Shubha Mudgal's soulful songs with the tiniest amounts of old Hindi film songs thrown in. For early morning train rides, it's Red Hot Chilli Peppers or U2. And for endless evening bus-stop waits, it's Coldplay or in desperate times, Enya even. Music seems rather deliberately tailored to fit moods.
Which is why I was surprised to find that today, listening to relatively short concertos by Beethoven, Mozart, and finally and most magnificently Dvorak I realised that sometimes, good music creates its own mood.
You cant but smile when a flute pipes up in a mischievous little love song or listen in wonder when the cello purrs the lower notes in the silences before a soaring symphony.
I have often heard people say music is a kind of universal language. This was illustrated rather literally when the conductor was a young Japanese woman and the musicians were a mixed group aged between 15 and 75, not to mention from atleast three different countries. The listeners in the audience were equally disparate. I love people-watching at the NCPA. It's a more polished, more genteel, more eccentric crowd than you'd find at a multiplex. It's also older and more worldly somehow.
There was something palpably electric in the air I thought towards the end, when the applause just wouldn't die down. People seemed proud of the home-grown musicians, especially cheering on an old violinist who looked like she'd been one of the founder members when the Bombay Chamber Orchestra was formed way back in 1962.
The two soloists, the flautist and the cellist had to come out and bow atleast three times before everyone stopped clapping.
It was almost magical to experience how good music evokes in people such strong emotions, and such unique thoughts. But I wondered if I could go one better on my experience. What if I could borrow the ears off of a trained musician and hear, really hear the nuances and the technique that I clearly miss?
But then perhaps, it doesn't matter. It is enough to derive pleasure from it without knowing all the nitty-gritties. After all, it seems tied in with our basic biological design. KKD mentioned a rather interesting fact about the scales of music. That no matter, how we divided sound frequencies, the octave relationship remained constant, a perfect interval, a "basic miracle of music" as wikipedia calls it. So in that sense music really is universal. Well, turns out we wont be needing that famous Babel fish after all!